Writing, literature, poetry
Writing can remain a way of expressing the narrowest and basest parts of the ego, a stimulant to violence and coarseness and animality. Or, in the hands of a more evolved person, it can become a source of uplift to others and, like any other art, even a way of development for the writer.
When writing achieves importance through style or effectiveness of expression or beauty of form, it has attained the level of literature.
If the writer is to come to inspiration, he should not be aware of any audience: the only reader must be himself. Otherwise he does not do his best work, for the self-conscious ego is behind it all, puffed up with its own importance.
The creative writer must give his topic an inward-turned concentration as if he were listening to a mental voice speaking within himself. The concentration must be absolute, without distraction; it must not even be shared with any background music.
Wisdom is all the better when it is likewise witty. Raise a laugh while you lift a man. Mix some humour with your ink and you shall write all the better. Sound sense loses nothing of its soundness when it is poured into bright, good-humoured phrases. Truth is often cold-blooded and a bath in warm smiles makes it the more attractive.
The writer may set down whatever word comes into his mind to express his thought in order not to lose the thought, but later he should not hesitate to come back and examine what he has written and ruthlessly to change those words or to throw them out altogether if his meaning is not expressed with sufficient fineness.
Keep on writing no matter what it is--put down whatever comes into your head; in this way you develop fluency. The criticism and crossings out of what has been done can follow at a later time.
The notion that the effects of inspiration should not be handled by the labours of revision is a wrong one. This is so, first, because few artists ever achieve a total purity of inspiration--however ecstatic their creative experience may be--and, second, because even if achieved it is still limited by the personal nature of the channel through which it flows. The writer who refuses to touch manuscripts again or to correct proofs displays vanity or ignorance or both.
We who work in literature or poetry must learn to put images of truth or beauty into the minds of readers. The sensitive person is too often cowed by the prevailing materialism in the society around him and particularly in its way of life--cowed to the point of falling in with this way and doing what the others are doing. This is weakness and cowardliness, the surrender to external suggestion.
It is the business of a philosophic writer to put a moral value and metaphysical meaning into life for those who can perceive neither one nor the other in it.
The author who puts pen and paper into fruitful conjunction is stating a message for others. Does he recognize in the depths of his being, his soul, his conscience, that he has a certain moral responsibility there?
I feel that it is a writer's duty to write about the best, the highest, the truest things he knows and then only to communicate these thoughts to others. Only when I can see them quite clearly and am convinced of their correctness, ought I to start to turn to others.
We who write have a responsibility for the thought-forms we create and let loose in the world.
We should remember that a piece of prose which uplifts the reader and gratifies the writer is the work of his best moments. What does he do with his lesser ones--for he must be humble enough to accept that they are there. If he is wise he will accept the Pythagorean advice to work upon himself. He will do more than well to transfer activity from unresistant white paper to obdurate negative tendencies. The reshaping of the self is not pleasant and not easy but it is rewarding.
When the presence of the Real is so ineffable, its secret so incommunicable, how can any writer--no matter how deft and experienced--put a correct picture of it in a book?
A piece of writing which lacks literary form does not have the power over readers of one which does have it. Two men may utter the same truth but one will have many more hearers than the other. Style still counts.
The best service a writer can render is to seek and find divine inspiration and true thinking, and then to offer the result to his fellowmen.
No man who has seen his soul's grandeur and felt its sublimity could write in a dull dreary inartistic style about it.
In this matter of communication he must be contemporary, producing work of and for his own time, current and therefore resultful, alive and therefore able to reach the living more closely and more personally than a dead person could reach them.
Sentences free from voluble overdecoration, almost as nude as they are noble; ideas phrased with verbal thrift so that meaning is kept clear and communication is as explicit as can be--this ought to be the modern idea. There are not many countries left today where such open speech about religion--Jewish, Christian, Islamic, or otherwise--will be punished by execution or persecution for heresy.
Playing with the power of words to give new forms, new expressions, new images, and new mantrams for the spiritual revivification of man, the writer of vision truly makes the Word become flesh. His gifts should be valued accordingly and received gratefully.
When a writer feels that the flow of thought runs smoothly, he should not interrupt the work by taking to some other task temporarily or let anyone else interrupt it, but should take advantage of this peak period, as one might call it, for when he picks it up again the work may not run so smoothly, because the inner push is absent.
A writer cannot work properly when surrounded by noise, when compelled to work at conventional hours, when society, neighbours, and would-be friendly persons intrude upon him.
The nimble use of words is not alone a satisfactory substitute for the accurate use of facts.
It is hard for an author to efface himself from his production. Not only is this so, but a one-pointed attention is also needed in the reader. He can do so only if he possesses the capacity to be so completely concentrated in the work as to forget everything else. This achieved, the personal ego will naturally be absent.
A budding author usually thinks his work to be far better than it really is, whereas the mature, proficient one is his own best critic--always ready to amend, revise, cancel, and change what he has written earlier.
One should be willing to examine carefully what he has said or done or written; and he should do it not to praise it but to correct or improve it imaginatively.
The value of documentation in a book, whether through footnotes or text, is that it answers critics or opponents holding opposite views, in advance with facts, and also that it helps to prevent the malicious falsification or distortion of history.
He should know that no man's work is so good that it could not be better. Save for the plea of lack of time a writer is prudent to revise sentences and even polish phrases. As soon as he assumes the mantle of vanity his work suffers.
When an author can effect contact with his Overself his writing becomes a spiritual activity. It inspires him, teaches him, uplifts him.
How often he will have to erase words and alter phrases and improve sentences, if his communication is to fit the thought which his intuition has given him!
Inspiration is more valuable than information. But the writer who can impart both to his readers renders them the best service.
Do not allow stylizing to usurp the throne of truth; do not let mannerism get out of hand.
The same fact which, when presented drily and logically, leads to no result may, when presented vividly and imaginatively, lead to a stirring of the emotions. This, in turn, may lead the man to take action.
Technique does count. Sentences which are slipshod in construction irritate the reader, and phrases which are awkward in form obscure the meaning.
If his thinking upon this matter is logical and coherent, and if the expression of his thoughts is grammatical and accurate, then those who seek to learn from him will have less difficulty in understanding him.
The writer reduces life to words, that is, to mere symbols.
Write what can be useful to others, what will simplify the teaching for them, and what will lead them to seek the source within their own beings.
Even if nobody wants to read his books the author of concentrated, well-done, or finely inspired work benefits himself internally.
The poet who lives at times from this profounder self will link his words with words as others do, and his rhythms with rhythms, but the difference of level will appear in their effect.
When he writes at his best, what he writes may be on a higher level than himself.
If a writer can put his theme, case, statement, or argument only in shrill hysteric tones, you may be sure he is an ill-balanced person.
Complimentary letters from readers may fatten an author's ego if he is not careful. It is therefore good if there is a sufficient leaven of criticism, or even abusive letters, from those who dislike his work or who disagree violently with his ideas.
The equilibrium of a written piece may be upset and the meaning somewhat falsified by putting too much stress or according too little weight. A prudent balance is essential in expressing any particular idea.
Goethe on writing: "I have the whole thing in my head and only need the mood to write. I wrote down little or nothing until I had worked out most of it in detail in my head."
We must write from what we know, from our own experience, from what we observe as facts around us, but where we cannot do either we must state that a theory is only a theory, however plausible and good it may be and however worth our hoarding.
There are different ways of making notes and marking books. There are also different colours which appeal to some writers and not to other ones. Queen Victoria scribbled her thoughts or decisions, suggestions or comments on official reports submitted to her: all were endorsed with a violet-coloured pencil. Alice Bailey wrote her Arcane Teaching books with an ordinary black-lead pencil, never with pen-and-ink: she got inner contact either with her higher self or with her guru's mind that way, she explained.
Aldous Huxley has outgrown his merely rationalistic stage and begun to express mystical ideas. This is a most gratifying advance. But he has fallen into the common error which makes the quietist ideal the supreme ideal. He may try to refute this activist outlook as being mystical heresy. He may even write a whole book, such as Grey Eminence, to show the misfortunes brought on his country by a French mystic leaving his monastic retreat to meddle in State affairs. But Huxley's effort has been a vain one. It is just as easy to write another book showing the good fortune brought to her country by Joan of Arc, also a French mystic, through meddling in State affairs. In this matter, I would rather accept Plato's teaching, that true knowledge compels to action. And Plato's philosophy was surely a mystical one. But there are two facts which refute Huxley. First, there is no such thing as inaction. No man in his senses will spend every day every year in contemplation alone. He has to get up and do something, even if it be only eating his dinner. A life of continuous meditation, without any interruption, would be impossible and undesirable, impracticable and unbalanced. Everywhere in Nature we see striving and activity. For man to attempt to refrain from both (as if he really could!) in the name of an exaggerated unbalanced and perverted surrender to God is to misunderstand God's--that is, Nature's--working. Second, the refusal to act is itself a kind of action; the real available choice is only between one kind and another, between good action and bad action. Walking about in the monastic cell is as active a deed as walking about in the statesman's chamber. But whether we take a short or a long view of the matter it is a mistake to regard the worldly life as necessarily materialistic and sordid. Men may make it so or they may ennoble it. The evil or the good is in their thought of it, that is, in themselves. The notion that the quest of the Divine must necessarily lead to denying the social and despising the historical belongs only to an unripened and imperfect mysticism. The fact is that no mystical experience and no metaphysical idea can complete our duty towards life. They are no substitute for right conduct.
I agree with Israel Zangwill, when he remarked at a public speech, "It is always a mistake for a literary man to show himself in the flesh; the flesh is generally a little disappointing; an author should be a disembodied spirit!"
Many writers get into an excited state about the work they happen to be engaged in, but few have also gotten into a state of entrancement. In the latter case, the works produced seem to have had considerable effect upon the readers and made quite an impression upon their feelings. Three writings come to mind immediately: the first, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass; the second, Joel Goldsmith's first and most celebrated work [The Infinite Way]; and the third, Allen Ginsberg's Howl.
Words are clumsy things with which to express these ethereal moods: a telepathic concentration on the one side and a passive meditation on the other would be better. But failing such silent inner contact, what else can we use but words, or music, or some other art form?
T.S. Eliot is too often a neurotic writer of the "precious" school, begetting muddled mystical nonsense. His reputation is overrated partly because of the portentous air he gives himself and partly because he is sufficiently incomprehensible to put himself out of the herd. But in The Cocktail Party, where he leaves verse for playwriting, he rises to a truly superior and truly mystical level.
When Wordsworth first saw that beautiful structure Tintern Abbey, he was uplifted to a spiritual plane. He put his feeling into a poem which those who could not visit the Abbey could read. A glimpse which inspired one art-form was transferred to another.
There are those who claim the poetic value to be as important as any other; who make poetry synonymous with spirituality; who rank it at the head of all the arts. "When I read poetry there is evoked in me a sense of beauty. My feelings, however, go deeper . . . I approach God through poetry. This is the true experience of a deep-searching person." These lines were written by Ryosen in the first few years of this century. He was a leader of the young intellectuals in Japan but died in his thirties. He began as a devout religionist, became a sceptical rationalist, but in the last few years of his short life moved over into mysticism.
He later explained the above quotation: "The sphere of truth and the sphere of poetry are from the outset different. . . . To the extent that we penetrate to the innermost part of human life, truth and poetry draw close . . . now in harmonious union."
I consider poetry to be a grand form of human culture but poets to be, quite often, victims of their own conceit, emotionalism, hallucination, and wishful thinking. Plato severely criticized them. Muhammed wrote harshly in the Holy Koran: "And as to the poets, those who go astray follow them; do you not see that they wander about bewildered in every valley? And they say that which they do not do."
Plato banished poets from his ideal Republic but nevertheless he crowned them first. By doing so he acknowledged poetry's well-deserved prestige but also its danger. For poets are more tempted, because more responsive to feelings, to exaggerate or sometimes even to falsify in their attempts to weave an emotional atmosphere and create an influential effect upon the reader by using metaphors and figures of speech. Of course that would not mean a deliberate falsification but rather a carelessness about truth. Unfortunately, truth was Plato's primary value. Take the famous and beautiful line: "A rose-red city, half as old as time." Note the exaggeration concerning time.
I am not alone in regarding the mystical deliverances of poets with special caution. Quite unconsciously, and because they are carried away by emotion, their sense of truth becomes impaired, their capacity for judgement imperilled. Moreover, poetry is concerned with personal feelings; prose can ascend higher and express the impersonal and the universal. Hence the poet is so often an egotist whereas it is easier for the prose writer, so far as his work goes, to be an altruist. Newman, although himself a Catholic, criticized Faber's writings in favour of Papal Infallibility as follows: "Judicious people think them crude and young, perhaps extravagant. He was a poet."
Poetry is akin to music in that it appeals more to feelings, and feelings in the end are so important that they push us into actions and deeds. But feelings can also mislead us and endanger us; therefore they need to be brought into equilibrium with reason and even more with intuition. Hence a poem which combines wisdom with its beauty, thought with emotion, will serve its auditors better in the end than one which does not.
An author is not always to be judged by his books. Sometimes he is much better than his writings; sometimes they are much better than he. The reason is plain. Inspiration raises the writer to a higher level of being; his inspired moments represent the peaks of his character, but afterwards he must fall back into everyday normalcy.
An autobiography can be and most often is what Guide, the English Victorian novelist, now so forgotten, called a degrading form of vanity--which he refused to write despite the request of publishers. But it can also be a work of utility to those who read it, even of wise helpful instruction to the younger people who have to find their way through the difficulties of early life and the deceptions of later life.
When will people understand that they come closer to a writer by studying his ideas rather than by meeting him in the flesh? Thoreau once said: "The best of me is in my books; I am not worth seeing personally."
All imperishable poems have this same quality--they worship beauty of the highest kind.
The Razor's Edge, by Somerset Maugham: The guru described in Maugham's novel is a compound of Ramana Maharshi and others, but the descriptions are fanciful and the events unreal. The ashram is greatly exaggerated and the young American rishee has not yet existed on earth. Maugham is a newcomer to these things, anyway, and cannot get even a quarter of an inch below appearances, while often soaking in clouds of self-deception. Nevertheless he has come out of agnosticism to this higher standpoint; it is good to know that he wrote this novel instead of concentrating exclusively on sex, as in his other stories.
The malign destiny which snatched the young Keats and Shelley from physical life, which kept the gifted Byron captive of his physical passion, deprived them of their chance to come to spiritual maturity, and the world of a greater deeper poetry.
Once W.B. Yeats wrote in admiration of Shankara's teaching. But in middle age he married and later revised his views and then wrote: "Ah, how many years it has taken me to awake from out of that dream!"
The poet should bring us to adore an uplifting beauty, not plunge us in a mad frenzy.
The sensual weaknesses to which writers like D.H. Lawrence devoted so much of their literary talent, instead of being regarded as morally undesirable, came to be regarded as praiseworthy virtues! It was forgotten that the prudent man will contain his desires within reasonable limits, if ideals and not caprices are to rule his life. It is true that Lawrence possessed ideals, even mystical ones, but lacked prudence. In short, he was unbalanced.
What D.H. Lawrence wrote in one of his private letters--"I feel sometimes that I shall go mad"--is the key to both the man and his work. One part of his being was, in his own words, "damnably violent" but another and--as he granted--a deeper part responded to "the kindness of the Cosmos." He was a disjointed disconnected man, a seer filled often with bitter spleen.
Leslie A. Fiedler, summarizing an article in "CEA Critic," May 1974, said, "Popular Literature--sentimental, horror, pornographic--titillates the emotions, releasing the reader from rationality and allowing him a moment of ecstasy. To define a true majority literature [i.e., low cultural--P.B.] we should evaluate a work not by ethics or aesthetics, but by the ecstasy it produces." Comment by P.B.: If a literature of refined cultural taste, mature intellectual statements, and civilized courtesy is to be rejected because it admires self-control, then we surely shall move backwards.
I do not understand much in modern art, modern poetry, and modern literature. When I hear on all sides, from professors in colleges and universities--more particularly, those in American institutions--when I hear them placing James Joyce's work (especially his Ulysses) among the creations of genius and fulsomely praising it, I am dumbfounded! I feel like Mansfield when, after trying to read this book, she wrote, "This is the future, and I'm glad I've got tuberculosis." As we know, she died from this dreadful disease. I do not take so black a view as hers because I believe the future contains positive as well as this negative material.
Shelley's death at an early age has often been lamented. Yet, leaving aside the elements of fate or karma, we may see how the negative quality of impatience contributed towards it. He had bought a small sailing vessel during his residence, on the Italian coast. He went on a journey to purchase supplies and to tend to other matters and then was about to return to the residence, where his wife and child awaited him. It was only one day's sailing from where he was, but an expert seaman and also the lighthouse-keeper warned him that a storm was coming and that he would do better to postpone his trip until it had passed. He did not listen to them owing to his eagerness to return to his wife, and he sailed away. Within a very short time, quite short, the storm suddenly appeared. There were violent upheavals of the water, and the little ship disappeared beneath the waves. This is how he was drowned. Shelley was lost with it--at least the living Shelley--for his body was recovered later, and humanity was deprived of the products of his bright genius at a still more mature age.
The modern verse movement in the English language came into being largely through the pioneering efforts of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Of the first man I have little to say: he was a good man, a talented man, a spiritually sensitive man, but in this effort he was misguided, and would have done better for the world if he had never gotten associated with Pound, who was a bad influence on him.
It is pardonable for people to expect a writer to incarnate his own words. This would seem necessary if he is not to be a hypocrite. But they forget that his best writing comes out of his best moments, that such times come only at intervals, that such levels are inspired, hence beyond or above his ordinary ones, and that like all true artists he is used to paint ideals for the benefit of himself as well as other people. The ideal has its legitimate place even though there is a time-gap between it and the actuality. We need not be harshly over-critical of the writer who portrays it but is unable to live by its higher standard today. If he is sincere, he will arrive at it another day. If he is not, he still renders a useful service despite himself.
Those whose literary actions come not out of goodwill but out of hate hurt themselves as well as others.
It may be asked why Plato banned the poets from his ideal Republic. Is it not, perhaps, because poetry seeks to move the feelings of its hearers or readers and that feeling induced from outside, as by poetry, can be carried to an extreme point and sweep a man off his feet, as the saying is, so that he acts on impulse or from ungoverned emotion and passion?
There are pieces of prose which are almost pure poetry, and there are lines of verse which are almost pure prose.
The most intelligent of writers are sometimes the least intelligent of philosophers.
Nietzsche's distorted semi-mysticism set up before educated people the ideal of a barbaric Superman, and Oswald Spengler's distorted intellectualism led them to draw the false lesson from history that man is always a beast of prey.
Nietzsche was a lunatic who rejected Jesus but accepted Socrates, an ascetic who denounced hedonism, and a firebrand admired by the Nazis.
There is this weakness in the poet who is only a poet and nothing more--that he is likely to accept almost anything as truth, provided it be beautiful.
Whoever writes for publication is in a position of public trust.
The sculpted wood, cast metal, or carven stone image speaks instantly to all, but the written word only to those who know the language used.
There is a difference between those who report in their writings and those who create. The first are carried away by the moment's happenings, the second look deeper and find weightier things.
The poet's language is necessarily rich in metaphor and simile because he himself is rich in imagination.
Nobody could look less like a mystic than Walter Russell, yet his long poem The Divine Iliad is a kind of work we associate with hirsute, eccentric dreamers.
When anyone reads a book, he comes into mental contact with an author--that is to say, with a creature who is a part of a human being. But when one meets him in person he meets the other part. He will see the difference.
In biography and autobiography he will get something of the thrill of reading fiction yet possess the satisfaction of discovering truth.
Toneless verses fall somewhat flat in the ear. Meaningless ones offer no nourishment to the mind.
Shakespeare has been justly praised and admired for his extraordinary dramatic genius and for its unusual breadth of subject. "Unique!" we exclaim. And on the few occasions when he allowed a little philosophy to creep in and interrupt the story we begin to wonder whether Francis Bacon did write the plays.
How did the same man come to create so brilliant a play as The Merchant of Venice and then stuff it with such narrow, rabid, and unkindly prejudice? How could he fall into the common superstition which, for over a thousand years, led to widespread intolerance and persecution?
The key to Henry Miller's real character is plain from his own confession: ". . . the life of the streets, of which I never tire. I am a city man; I hate nature, just as I hate the classics." There is revealed all the commonness and vulgarity of his character, the coarseness of taste, the lack of true culture.
Norman Mailer has enormous creative powers; he is unquestionably a genius: but this does not stop him from being somewhat mad.
Wilde's highly coloured paradox-loving alliterative style degenerated from being a means into becoming an end. Truth was sacrificed to style.
"Elbert Hubbard had his moments before big business got him," is Stuart Chase's critical appraisal of this great American genius. Whether so or not, the wisdom expressed in his writings and the originality exhibited in his printings were inspired, as we might anticipate, by a living faith in the esoteric philosophy.
Of the five most famous Russian writers of the nineteenth century, Tolstoy was the most powerful writer of them all. He was also the most spiritual and most influential. But in himself he was an ill-balanced man. Dostoevski, who is usually praised as being the most spiritual, was the most religious; but he was an emotional psychopath in love with the idea of suffering. He needed straightening out. Turgenev was competent and talented but quite worldly. Maxim Gorki, although but a materialist, was fairly sensible and an excellent writer. It would not be fair to compare Chekhov with the others, because, although his work was always good, he wrote plays, which the others did not.
When we find that leaders in English literature like Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley, who received supreme homage from the most cultivated and sophisticated audience outside France, bravely turned from scepticism to mysticism despite the howling of disappointed followers, we find a phenomenon worth looking into.
Poetry provides images for the mind to dwell upon. If it is inspired, those images bring man to a higher plane.
Too much of modern literature has too little of greatness, let alone nobility or goodness. Where it is not morbidly pathological it is aggressively scatological; where it is not criminally violent it is absurdly trivial.
A printed page has served us well if it enables us to meet a finer character, a riper intelligence, and a deeper knowledge than our own.
Tolstoy, in the earlier period of his life, created some artistic pieces which gave him Europe-wide fame. But in the later period of his life, when a gloomy saturnine asceticism held his mind, he preached moralizing sermons instead and puritanically denounced art.
It makes all the difference possible if a man plows through twenty books in order to put out the twenty-first on the subject, or if he writes it out of direct firsthand knowledge.
The interest in physical adventure stories is a sign of adolescence and, when they involve crime, of undisciplined adolescence.
The work of Emerson's pen is excitingly inspired and serenely beautiful.
No boat from America brought the other four continents more inspired writings than that Argosyan vessel which left her shores with the first published work of R.W. Emerson. There are some of his phrases which hold the memory as in a vice! And Emerson's sky is always blue. However, I was not always in this perfect concord with the Concord philosophy. When I first came to Emerson's pages, as a green and guileless youth, I found the epigrammatic nuts of his wisdom too hard for the teeth of my understanding. So I put him aside for a few years, and then, with stronger molars, successfully renewed the attack.
A good book which revives inspiration or invigorates reason is as blessed to write as to read. Its cost is no adequate return and its author can never be adequately thanked.
Despite the volume and variety of Bertrand Russell's comments and considerations upon life, I have come across no interest in the appreciation or cultivation of beauty. Does this not help to explain his mystical deficiency?
On this topic of writing I would like to quote from an experienced writer himself--a man who wrote over one hundred books, though I doubt whether they are at all read today. I met him only once. He was a staunch Catholic, highly dogmatic, but very devoted to the values of contemplation even though he was too busy a man to practise them much. He was violently critical of most things and most leaders in society--so much so that he abandoned his membership in the British Parliament in disgust. His name was Hilaire Belloc and he wrote about writing: "The worst enemy of prose today is the snobbishness of rules and forms . . . the mumbo-jumbo of hieratic prescription."
The young writer has one great defect and one great lack. The defect is that he is irresponsible; the lack is that he is inexperienced. The mature, perhaps middle-aged, writer is much more cautious, much more careful of the words he uses.
It is a great and widespread error to identify the best modern poetry with the disciples of Ezra Pound, as the naïve Mr. T.S. Eliot, himself one of them, did. Perhaps we owe this bit of literary foolishness to the American professors of English Literature, not necessarily because Pound was also American but because they were too naïvely led astray by the editors--and editresses--of poetry's "little journals."
If both beauty and melody are removed from a poem, what is left? Call it what you wish but do not insult readers by calling it poetry.
The writer who continues civilized cultural traditions may also be a creator of culture itself.
Do not seek to meet the author of a mystic noble or wise book, for you may suffer disappointment. You expect to find him superior to his book but then he is revealed as inferior to it. (Not always.)
A book which evokes the intuitive in you, however briefly or spasmodically, or which awakens you to newer recognition or deeper perceptions is itself a guru to that extent.
What I appreciate about Cardinal Newman's personality and writing is exactly what repels others. I appreciate his aristocratic attitude, his refined speech, his dignity and quality.
I would like to give myself the pleasure of quoting here a writer whose personality I esteemed when he was alive and whose books I admire--A.E., the Irish poet.
Seventy years ago that versatile Irishman who used the pen name A.E. published his collected poems. He was a gifted painter as well as poet, economist as well as a prose essayist, clairvoyant, seer, and, when I met him, more of a sage. Looking through his verses, I select a few lines which impress me:
1. The power is ours to make or mar
Our fate has on the earliest morn,
The DARKNESS and the RADIANCE are
Creatures within the spirit born.
2. The Wisdom that within us grows
Is absolution for our sins.
3. He does not love the bended knees,
The soul made wormlike in HIS sight,
Within whose heaven are hierarchies
And solar kings and lords of light.
4. He felt an inner secret joy--
A spirit of unfettered will
Through light and darkness moving still
Within the ALL to find its own,
To be immortal and alone.
5. Dark churches where the blind Mislead the blind.
6. Unto the deep the deep heart goes,
It seeks a deeper silence still;
It folds itself around with peace,
With folds alike of good or ill
In quietness unfostered cease.
D.H. Lawrence told a friend who was at the dying novelist's bedside that he could feel himself withdrawing from the physical body yet at the same time looking at the scene from outside as if he were floating away.
Ralph Waldo Emerson's intellectual way of life is a great standby for many. One could not wish for a finer example.
Some spiritual books are written in a dull, almost dead manner. The writers seem to believe that because perchance they are writing of an ancient wisdom, they must be dull and mournful, with no more joy in their work than there is in the rumble of a hearse.
Those who can only learn by trial and error will continue to do so. The results are important only to themselves, and to a few others in their orbits. But when the trial is made by writers and the error is passed on to numerous readers, the situation which develops becomes of wider importance.
Early in the nineteenth century a young writer unexpectedly broke in upon British attention, electrifying people with his thought and phrase alike. That man was Carlyle. Out of his hermit-like meditations upon his epoch, he emerged to peal forth in thunderous tones the plaint of a truth-seeker in an age of social shams.
Francis Bacon makes a new sentence hold a new idea. He requires an audience of busy thinkers, rather than mere readers. I refer of course to his Essays.
Some years ago a Czech writer, Karel Capek, published a novel called The Absolute at Large in which he pictures an inventor who succeeds in utilizing the energy of the atom, not for military purposes but only for peacetime industrial purposes. In the same book, he imagines the effect of this discovery upon religion and metaphysics. Supporting the doctrine of pantheism and affirming that divinity is present in all matter, he pictures a divine by-product issuing from each atomic turbine. The consequence is that all the people in the neighbourhood of the turbine become spiritually-minded! They begin to renounce the world, to talk inspirationally, to perform miracles, and to engage in revivals. The idea is a clever one, but is it a true one? How can spirituality be turned on by a mechanical instrument and let loose upon the people? The basic fallacy in Capek's notion is that divinity is contained within the atom. On the contrary, philosophy says that the atom itself is in divinity, which requires no machine to release it. It is everywhere and always present and if it is to be released and communicated, that can only be done through a human instrument, not through an arrangement of steel and springs.
In Sanskrit formulations and analyses on the art of poetry, its place and purpose, its styles and techniques, the important thing is for its message to be implicit rather than explicit, to give hints and clues rather than revelations, to use suggestive imagery rather than to deliver plain statements--but, as with our own Western work, to use myth, metaphor, and symbol to arouse feeling and release emotion.
Poetry which gives no beauty to man or which raises him to no nobility has failed even to become itself, that is, poetical. But when it is mere disjointed gibberish, spluttering nonsense, then it is harmful to the orderly sanity of those who adore it.
What witchery is this which enables a man to take some words and connect them with other words, so that the result affects other people's feelings and minds?
A genuine aesthetic feeling shrinks from the crude filth and the vulgar four-letter words of some of these "in" young writers. They elevate the lowest as if it were to be admired.
The writer who knows no more of truth than what some guru--that is, what someone else--has told him ought frankly to say so to his readers.
The neurotic screaming of a D.H. Lawrence is seen for what it is: an adolescent's passional excited discovery of sex and his (Lawrence's) inability to get over it, his incapacity to grow up into an adult responsible and balanced view of it.
In his book Between Heaven and Earth, the late Franz Werfel wrote: "The stupidest of all inventions of nihilistic thinking is the so-called impersonal God. Confronted with this non-personal God, one is tempted to bless the personal non-God of the honest atheist; for the concept of a spiritless and senseless world created by nothing and by no one, and existing nevertheless, is for all its ghastliness, more acceptable than the idiotic notion of a kind of extra-mundane and autonomous power station that creates and feeds all things without ever at all having been invented or operated by a creative Mind. The impersonal God is the most wretched reflection of technologized and thought-weary brains, the modern old folks' home of senile pantheism."
These sentences betray such a misunderstanding of one of philosophy's basic metaphysical tenets that they call for a reply. We offer the most unstinted praise of Werfel's genius as a novelist and we consider his book The Song of Bernadette one of the finest permanent contributions to modern religio-mystical biography. But Werfel got out of his depth when he attempted to criticize this, the ultimate concept of all possible human concepts about God. For he brought to his thinking, albeit quite unconsciously, all the limitations of his otherwise gifted personality. We must remember that he was primarily a man of imagination, an artist to whom "forms" and "entities" are a necessity in the working of his mind. Consequently the idea of Void, which is Spirit in all its uttermost purity, remained impenetrable to him. To the philosopher, the privation of all things and even thoughts represents the only absolute emancipation from the limits set by matter time space and ego. Therefore it represents the only power which is really infinite and almighty. That is, it represents the only true God. Werfel unconsciously looked for a mental picture in his search for God because only such a picture, together with the ecstatic devotion it arouses, could give him, as an artist, the assurance of a real presence.
Werfel not only was incapable of accepting the concept of the Void but he also did not want to accept it. This was because he was, like so many artists, an emotionalist. Witness in proof of this assertion the three intellectually weak reasons he gives why a Jew should never become a formal convert to Christianity. When analysed, these reasons turn out to be nothing more than mere historical tradition-worship, passionate sentimentality.
Inspired revelatory writing
There are great books, call them scriptures, classics, or commentaries, which are vehicles not only of instruction but also of inspiration and enlightenment.
Ordinary writing is a process of the common intellect, whereas revelatory writing is a product of the inspired intellect. In the first state the intellect works by its own power and momentum, whereas in the second it works under the possession of the higher power and by a higher activity.
There is a style which is formed artificially and self-consciously by nimble, intellectual rhetoric. There is a style which forms itself unconsciously out of natural loftiness of character. Truly inspired writing and speaking come from the latter class.
The author who willingly and humbly gives himself up to such an inwardly guided mode of writing learns new truths from its results, just as his readers do.
A piece of writing which expresses the illumination of the writer has the possibility of initiating the reader. It is an echo or a reflected image.
In inspired writing you meet an individual worth meeting; you are taken directly into a mind worth knowing. You partake of communion with a being superior to yourself.
When the inspired sentence is read, the sensitive mind comprehends that it is no longer merely reading words. It is also receiving the grace of the Presence.
The effect of inspired writing is to arouse spiritual aspiration or provide spiritual guidance. This is its highest function.
What readers get from an inspired book depends on their own capacity. It can communicate the truth or beauty, the sublimity or goodness found in the inspiration only to the extent that the reader can feel something of such a thing himself. The better it is written, the more effective is the communication.
A spiritually inspired book must not be read too lightly or too quickly. The reader should try to penetrate deeply into the ideas on each page . . . so deeply that he comes out on the other side.
When writing of writers and their productions, Thomas de Quincey set forward an interesting theory. He divided books into two kinds. The first belonged to what he called the "Literature of Knowledge," and they were intended to give instruction or to present information. But such books would, from time to time, become obsolete and have to be brought up to date, or need revision for some other reason, or re-arrangement. But, anyway, they do not generally have permanency. The second kind, which he called "The Literature of Power," did have permanency because it moved: it had the power to move the heart, the feelings of people. And being what it was, written from the author's living experience or what he had himself seen, gave the writing a power which instructed works of information do not possess. In other words, the Literature of Power survives, whereas the Literature of Knowledge gets superseded.
Truth sits perched upon the pen of one who has surrendered his hand to the Overself. Hence his words endure and are to be found among the records that Time keeps in its treasury, whereas the words of egotistic and ephemeral writers are often thrown off into oblivion as soon as they are written.
The literary legacy of the modern world is nothing short of amazing. Although the wisdom of the Alexandrian Library was burnt down with it, I warrant we have today a fuller and more rounded record of human knowledge than the ancients ever thought likely. Yet withal the great secret eludes us.
There is a power in inspired writings and authoritative revelations not only to work upon the minds and hearts of their readers, like many other books, but also to work upon their intuitive natures. This is a far more valuable service than providing information or stimulating emotion. They start a process of fruitful thought or give glimpses of hitherto unperceived truth or formulate clearly and decisively what has been half-felt and vaguely known.
The writer follows a profession which is glamorous but hollow: he is merely a manipulator of words. But it is hollow only if his words come out of no facts, if they are nothing but babble. It is only when his experience of living is rich, wide, and vertically cross-sectioned, or when his mind touches deep sources by its power of concentration, that his words are loaded with content and his readers are enriched with inspiration.
It is for the reader successfully to recreate in himself the mood which inspired the writer.
You must look for meaning not only in the words but also in between the letters of the words, for such are the ways of the mystics and also of the writers of paradox.
The writer who engages the reader's mind and invites it to think renders an intellectual service. But the writer who incites it to intuit renders a spiritual one.
There are phrases in the New Testament which must impress the mind of every sensitive person. These phrases embody truths but they embody them in language which carries added authority derived from the style. I refer to the King James version, the translation into English made in the seventeenth century and today replaced by several modern versions in plain everyday twentieth-century English. It is true that in the modern ones the ordinary person gets a clearer notion of the meaning and, therefore, for him the modern translation is undoubtedly more useful. But I wrote of the sensitive person. For him not only is the meaning clear enough in the old version, but the style, with its beauty and authority, makes the statements even weightier.
The way to use a philosophic book is not to expect to understand all of it at the first trial, and consequently not to get disheartened when failure to understand is frequent. Using this cautionary approach, he should carefully note each phrase or paragraph that brings an intuitive response in his heart's deep feeling (not to be confused with an intellectual acquiescence in the head's logical working). As soon as, and every time, this happens, he should stop his reading, put the book momentarily aside, and surrender himself to the activating words alone. Let them work upon him in their own way. He is merely to be quiet and be receptive. For it is out of such a response that he may eventually find that a door opens to his inner being and a light shines where there was none before. When he passes through that doorway and steps into that light, the rest of the book will be easy to understand.
A writer who gives out high ideals ought to be the first man to follow them himself.
It has been said that it is somewhat disillusioning to make the acquaintance of writers in person and that it is better to be satisfied with enjoying their work. This is less true of the general category of authors than it is of those who write upon religious, mystical, and philosophical subjects. Readers form preconceptions of what the authors of such books must be like personally and physically, but such pictures are based upon their bias, their prejudice, the limits of their reading and experience--especially social experience. So they receive a surprise, sometimes even a shock, when they find that the reality does not coincide with the preconception.
The spiritual author who conforms to his own teachings, who is as careful of his ethics, motives, actions, and thoughts as he is of his style, is a rare creature. There is not less posing to a public audience in the world of religio-mysticism than there is in the world of politics. The completely sincere may write down their experiences or their ideas for the benefit of others, but they are more likely to do so for posterity rather than for their own era. Their most inspired work is published after their death, not before it. The half-sincere and the completely insincere feel the need of playing out their roles during life, for the ego's vanity, ambition, or acquisitiveness must be gratified. The half-sincere seldom suspect their own motives; the insincere know their own too well.
Most modern writers who deal with some aspect of mysticism, spirituality, and the higher consciousness generally have done little more than probe along the margins. This is true no matter how fluently or authoritatively or mysteriously or loftily they write. It is easier and commoner to enter the stillness and speak from its pleasant transcendence than to penetrate to its inconceivable core and achieve insight.
He who can put God's Great Silence into words renders a high service to his fellows. He is not only a revealer who opens doors in their minds; he is also a healer who relieves hurt places in their hearts.
The correct key to the meaning of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat is neither the literal nor the mystical one, but a combination of both. The Persian character and outlook are such that they can easily hold the sceptical analyst, the pious devotee, the careless sensualist, and the theosophical fakir under a single hat. Consequently some of the verses of the Rubaiyat are to be taken as they stand, but others must be searched for an inner meaning. And this meaning is openly hinted at by a Persian Sufi teacher, Sheikh Ibrahim, in a quatrain where we are told to weep in yearning for the divine soul and to give it our heart's love:
The real wine is the blood of our hearts,
Do not search for it in the bottle.
The true pearls are the tears of our eyes,
Do not look for them in the ocean.
A work which brings true faith and reasonable hope to hearts not only bereft of both but steeped in despair, has some usefulness.
A man's spiritual aspirations may remain asleep until he comes into contact with an advanced mystic or an inspired book. By marking out the path which his feet will have to tread as well as by showing its deviations and pitfalls, the man or the book may help him to tread aright.
Some of those ancient texts were written on so high a level of inspiration that one approaches them in awe and reverence. It is as if the Word was made script, the intangible given form to break through the limitations which shut man up in tight ignorance. The unnameable Godhead has used a few humans to tell humanity that it IS and that they are not alone.
A mere handful of words may contain the wisdom of a lifetime. A single page may teach a man much about himself. No one--even the mystic--need despise books, but they need to be kept in their proper place. Reading cannot supplant meditation.
To read inspired books is to live for a time with inspired minds.
You may test a piece, a book, or a passage for inspiration by whether or not it yields the feeling that a living person is speaking behind its words.
The idea may previously have come intuitively to them, but too weakly to have directly influenced them. Yet when they read it formulated effectively in words and put into print by someone who is expert in both writing and the subject itself, the likelihood of acceptance is so very much more that a result like conversion is not seldom produced. When the readers find their secret but uncertain thought openly proclaimed in the strong language of direct knowledge and personal conviction, they may submit to its authority in a single transforming moment.
Any piece of writing that can move men to seek the true and honour the good will have done more for them than if it moves them to join a sect or a cult.
It may not be important to arrange a lot of words on paper, but if those words convey intimations of an inner life that is more satisfying and less illusory than the outer life, then their writer performs a useful activity at least, a very necessary one at most. Even if his be only a voice in the wilderness with few or none to hear him, the tremendous importance of his message remains.
Those who lack the capacity to practise meditation should compensate for this by reading and studying the writings of the others who possess it.
There is a deep chasm between books written out of genuine knowledge and those written to advocate a point of view.
The beginner has little capacity to discriminate and seldom knows whether he is reading the work of a great mystic or only the imitation of such a work. What makes the situation even worse is that in addition to such copies there exist the mere imitations of imitations. Of course it is mainly the ideas themselves that are plagiarized, for the inspired presentation of them is not commonly within the compass of mediocrity's hand.
There is something like magic in the way a simple white sheet of paper can stir one man to rancorous frenzy, or another to delirious joy, if certain black marks are made upon it. But still more magical is it when the message contained in those marks induces a transcendental state.
The work of an inspired individual will always carry authenticity but it may not always carry style.
Light comes to us with certain writings; they make our mind fertile and our understanding clear. These are the great writings of the human race, whether they are known to it or neglected by it.
Poetry arouses feeling and this in turn, if lofty enough, can awaken intuition.
Words may give other persons their cue to start off in a new or higher direction, may encourage or inspire this move, but the inner work has still to be done by each person for himself. The words become more valuable as they lead the aspirant to absorb intuitions. This is their best service.
There are authors who get these inspired moments, who sometimes write better than they know, who have to wait--like their readers--to catch the high revelatory meaning of a piece they have put down as it flowed through them.
Ancient Oriental authors on spiritual subjects offered, in their first lines, their homage to their master or to their personal ideal--the purpose being partly to keep their writing free from personal distortion and partly to gain inspiration.
To sit there, spinning out the phrases which shall carry ideas to other men, is not less an act of worship or of preachment--if they be reverently composed religious mystical or philosophic ideas--than praying on one's knees or addressing others from a pulpit.
In the reading of these books, just as in the presence of the masters, we grow emotionally and are at our best mentally.
A word, a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph may be enough to awaken a hundred sleeping minds.
A spoken word or a written book which reaches through a man's ordinary everyday character to his better self renders him a service which may be fleeting or lasting. The result will depend on whether or not he follows up the mood invoked.
It is not only that he is trying to communicate a message; the work does not end there: it is also that he is trying to move his readers to feeling and to action or, contrariwise, to a depth of stillness they do not ordinarily know.
Shankara of Kanchi: "The Hindu artist dedicates his work to God. By such dedication purity of mind arises."
In the symbolism of several scriptures, the Saviour represents the higher self and the seeker the lower one. Thus, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is the divine soul, Arjuna the human ego.
To write noble and beautiful words constituting a message that will still be read eagerly a thousand years later and that will seem fresh and inspired is something worth doing.
Fine passages grow upon the pages of the olden seers as thickly as grass in spring. Where are such great and true voices as those today? I can hear the bleat of the lost sheep but I cannot hear such voices.
Style and its artistic function may have no place in the ascetic prophet's scheme of things. He may say what he has to say in the barest most unattractive way, or put it so clumsily that his hearers may have to interpret his meaning.
If any passage in his writing moves your mind or will in the right direction, it has served you well. Do not ask that it shall do more and solve your own personal problem directly and definitely.
These great minds actively live again in his own consciousness during the intent study of the ideas in their writings.
It is a useful exercise to memorize the most inspired or the most appealing passages in books written by masters of the spiritual or philosophic life.
The difference between inspired writing drawn from within by intuitive feeling and paraphrased writing drawn from without by omnivorous reading is always clear to a practising mystic.
Writings so inspired, so revelatory, exorcise the evil spirits of hate and anger from our hearts.
Coleridge's Ancient Mariner is a mystical poem. When he wrote it, he was plunged into the study of the metaphysical mystics such as Plotinus and other Neoplatonists.
If through a book we can associate ourselves with a mastermind, it represents an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
Truth takes on flesh and blood in such inspired writings, embodies the bodiless Spirit and announces its own existence to a doubting argumentative world.
Some come among us commissioned with a sacred message.
If it is to be inspired work it will have to be written out of the fullest inner conviction.
The writer who lifts his readers to a higher plane, who makes them feel that spiritual achievement is within their reach, is as much a minister of religion as any ordained one.
These inspired phrases lure the understanding on to seek the seraphic Source whence they have arisen.
Through inspired documents and inspired prophets, people who are blind to this reality are enabled to see.
These passages seem to bring with them the higher part of the reader's nature. They not only stand for it symbolically but also deputize for it actually.
If I read a truly inspired piece of writing with all the attention and feeling it deserves, then I take part in a sacrament no less religious than the one in a church.
The permanent truths enshrined in inspired classics are to be loved, their good counsels deeply respected.
The words of a book may speak to an inner need which may be raging within him or which may not even enter his consciousness until that moment.
When anyone else utters for the ordinary inarticulate man, in words and with precision, what he feels vaguely and obscurely, he is helped intellectually and fortified spiritually.
Here are words aglow with divine ecstasy, ashine with divine truth.
Philo the Alexandrian tells of feeling so inspired that the ideas flowed of themselves effortlessly through his pen.
That book renders a real service which lets in light.
If the book is really inspired it will strike sparks in the reader's mind.
The songs of Kabir show what wisdom can go into an artistic form: the two are not necessarily divorced. The poems of Rumi perform the same function.
An utterance which is authentically inspired will leave its mark on someone.
A noble piece of writing can serve those who are receptive to its message by cleansing their hearts and uplifting their minds.
The translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Prabhavananda and Isherwood is one of the most readable, clearest, easiest to understand.
Much of Emerson's writing came from his intuition rather than from his intellect.
There are truths which do not easily declare themselves, which hide or resist so that they must be dug for. But that is precisely where an inspired book can help the seeker so much. And then when the discovery is made, when the jewel is found, it can be added for his greater enrichment.
That writer has fulfilled his purpose whose reader catches fire from his words.
Oratory is great when it gives its auditors more understanding, but it is greatest when it gives them a glimpse!
It is right to expect that a writer on the art of mental quiet will produce works which themselves bear a style and atmosphere, a content and message of quietness.
The book which prods us into finer thought or higher feeling or makes us live better has served us well.
A voluble tongue or a prolific pen is no evidence of an inspired mind.
In these pages they will find their half-held best hopes taken up and transformed into reasoned affirmations.
When you read such inspired works, it is not enough to read them with the eyes alone: you must absorb their contents into your inner self; they must penetrate you through and through.
He will love the writings of inspired prophets, illumined seers, or intuitive thinkers. The more they succeed in conveying the feeling of their experience of, or kinship with, the Overself, its presence and power, its beauty and peace, the more will he love them.
To regard every part of a work as equal in inspiration, or even in value, with every other part is naïve. The artist or writer has times when he may be only half-awake, overtired, moody, and depressed, and his work is not likely to be then at its best.
These words evoke exalted feelings in the heart of a thoughtful, well-informed, and sensitive person, but is the same result likely to happen to a cynical, sceptical, totally materialistic person? Without some preparation of philosophy they may fail to take hold on a limited mind or a mainly selfish one.
A poem which stirs a young person to high aspiration has done a noble service.
An artistic or literary product may be nothing more than the mere expression of a capricious mood, of a passing whimsy, something altogether insignificant; or it may be allied with great spiritual meaning, loaded with riches for beholder, listener, or reader, and finally metamorphosed into a ritual of high magic.
A deeper force is operating at such a time than either reader or hearer is aware of, but the result depends on whether the sensitivity, receptivity, and passivity are permitted to dominate.
The reader who joins his own with an author's mind gets a chance to go as far as the author has gone.
Lao Tzu's classic and only work, Book of the Way and of its Merit, tries to make its readers see values which only the sage ordinarily sees.
A wise and noble statement in an inspired book may come back to some reader's mind at a moment of great need when it will be meaningful to him and help him through a difficult period.
A few words may carry a man's mind to an uplifted state, may help to awaken a brief association with his better self, and may help him relate to a finer state of consciousness. But this depends on who uttered or wrote those words.
Is it possible that something of the writer's mind infuses itself in the attentive reader's? Why not, if the reader is also receptive? But the effect may be brief and soon fade out.
A single word or a short phrase may become so charged with meaning for him that, pondering upon it, enlightenment grows rapidly and the inner work progresses accordingly.
A writer in this field of study attracts the serious and earnest, the sensible and level-headed, but he also attracts the psychotics and neurotics, the mildly lunatic fringe who become a menace to his quiet industrious existence.
We all know that there is a dark negative side to life, with its miseries and sufferings, as we know that there are so many imperfections, follies, meannesses, and wickednesses in humans. But why should an author on spiritual topics depict them? There is not much in existence today to comfort and gladden us, so we look to such an author to hold up noble, beautiful, peace-bringing ideals, ideas, and experiences for our gaze.
Sometimes a single spoken or written sentence can reveal to the perceptive mind that the speaker or writer is, for those moments at least, an enlightened individual.
This literature has begun to familiarize them with the ideas and practices of mysticism, the lives and ways of the yogis. Ignorance must give place to acquaintance before it can give place to acceptance.
Wilhelm von Humboldt read Wilkins' English translation of the Bhagavad Gita, with the result that he felt bound to thank destiny for having left him life long enough to allow him to read the incomparable work, which he called "the finest philosophic poem that the literatures known to us can offer to humanity."
If we believe that the men who wrote scriptures were inspired and if we know our world literature, we must be very insensitive not to see that other men have written since then who were at least only a little less inspired than the scriptural authors and who wrote with a light and wisdom not their own.
Literature can be as much a spiritual force in these modern times as liturgy has been in medieval times.
Stage, cinema, dance
Ancient Greek tragedy plays, with their atmosphere of helpless and hopeless disaster, give truth only if they are countered by modern writings or speeches based on worship, personal optimism, and success stories.
If The Tempest was Shakespeare's final work, it was also his most philosophical play, neatly expressing his highest thoughts. There is less conflict and tragedy, more calm and dignity in it than in any of his other writings.
The theory of Tragedy, which developed out of the Dionysus cult, remained a spiritual thing for the Greeks. Aristotle considered that it aroused pity and fear for the hero and thus purged and healed the audience's emotions.
It is important to remember the power of suggestion when we examine the effect of a theatrical play on the spectators. This power can be used to harm them morally or to elevate them emotionally.
I have often asked people connected with the theatre whether they become the role which they play and entirely forget themselves; or whether they never entirely let their own personal identity disappear. The answers have been contradictory. There does not seem to be universal agreement upon this point. Some say they no longer identify with themselves, others say they always remember themselves. Perhaps the solution is that the very few who have real genius do succeed in letting go of the ego and becoming the character which they play, totally. Others, who may have good, real talent but not genius, will not be able to let go of their ego, will not be able to forget self, however well they may assume the role on the stage itself.
Was Salvini right when he said that an actor weeps and laughs on the stage yet all the while he is watching his own tears and smiles?
The people of Athens could think of no better honour for their tragic dramatist Sophocles after his death than to say that a god had lived with him as a guest!
We have gone far from the serious use of a play in the theatre. Shakespeare used it to help us get, for a couple of hours at least, a slightly more detached view of human existence than is possible normally. This might help us to get a slightly better understanding of our own existence. But today criminals are admired by the audience and held up for admiration by the author. Sex without self-control is another praised theme for the titillation of audiences and the brisker sale of tickets at the box office.
It is risky to try to modernize Shakespeare's story and language unless great restraint is used.
The fictitious sufferings and joys enacted upon a theatrical stage may move an audience to tears or pleasure, but with its departure comes the awakening to reality, that knowledge of what is which is truth.
A play which carries something of the atmosphere of a religious ritual thereby brings the Theatre near to the Church.
If the audience reflects, either during or after the show, on the piece of life it has seen on the stage, it will have some higher profit than mere entertainment.
It is true that Shakespeare held a mirror up to the events, persons, and histories of his time. But it is also true that he inserted philosophical comments which carried force.
We may ask why Shakespeare has portrayed too many human faults and too few human virtues. But the answer can only be because he has gone to life itself for his sources, where human imperfections are all too plain.
I have known the man who was, in his time, the world's greatest screen comedian--Chaplin.
I go to the cinema partly to get the opposition which will in a mild but varied form test my ascetic indifference towards earthly attractions and partly to get vivid instruction in their deceptiveness and vanity. The very scenes which excite the sensuality of most beholders, I use, by a process of keen intellectual analysis, to excite my repulsion. Finally, I also go to the cinema simply to enjoy myself with comedies and laugh over them.
Too many films are turned out following a cheaply melodramatic or allegedly funny formula. Soon after the start of a picture one knows how it is going to unfold. It is inane, a denial of true artistry, a false escape from reality, a waste of time. One can attend cinemas only when they show versions of a good novel, a good play, or a worthwhile comedy.
The cinema is here to stay. Everybody understands its pictorial language. But like other forms of science applied to art, its powerful influence needs to be purified.
The cinema has over-exploited sex and over-pictured its saccharine sensualities.
The box-office success of the film The Razor's Edge is proof that there is a little room for something loftier in the entertainment world. Here is a story of a young war veteran whom Nature has made an individualist and whom experience has made reflective about experience itself. He begins a search for inner peace, which in the story is contrasted with a setting of continental worldliness and Parisian sin.
Rudolf Steiner compared the effects of cinema-going to those of a drug. Perhaps he would have included the entertainment side of television, the reading of light fiction, too. But if we analyse the pleasure which such attractive distractions yield, we shall find that they let us get away from the ego.
The dances used in connection with the ancient religions, and particularly those of the Near and Middle East, were not intended to offer pleasure or provide entertainment as most of our modern or Western dancing is. They had a sacred or symbolic meaning. At some stages they might bring the audience into chorus chanting or even certain movements along with the original dances.
Whatever the other reasons are for the tremendous postwar popularity of the ballet both in Europe and America, be they its colourfulness, its poetry, its vigour, its beauty, and its blending of different arts, there is one more, which is important: its other-worldliness. It answers a spiritual craving that does not know it is spiritual.
Painting, sculpture, architecture
The painter must not only have the talents of drawing and colouring, but also the bodily gift of seeing sharply and the mental gift of visualizing, imaging.
The light which informs and brightens the colours of the best medieval paintings is suggestive and symbolic. The artists worked often under inspiration got from mystical rapture, for they worked often with religious subjects.
The tiny figure of a Buddha appears in some Tibetan paintings or statuettes. It is a perfect replica of midget size placed in the heart or head. It is put in by the artist to show the unseen, the real Buddha within the outer form that is all most people see.
Inspired drawings may give as much a spiritual impact as inspired paintings.
Those pictures--Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian--which show the benedictory raising of a hand, show only one of the ideas which exist side by side in different religions.
Christian art was not the first to use a halo round the head when depicting holiness. Chinese pictures have used it too.
Some paintings of pop art seem to be scenes taken from the astral plane. They are more than mere imagination--extraordinary creatures or amazing monsters. They are mostly results of astral clairvoyance.
A painting which beholders find quite incomprehensible and whose maker boasts of its meaninglessness belongs to human pathology, not to human art. To him life itself is without meaning: his picture is a jumble because his soul is a chaos.
Those ultramodern artists who scorn to draw well because they cannot draw at all, whose slovenly productions and ugly colouring repel the seeker after beauty in art, possess neither technique nor inspiration.
Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico, and Piero della Francesca had unquestioned genius in art. But they belong to the old school, and modern youth craves the new, the different. The craving is legitimate but the acceptance of crazy nonsense merely because it is new, of untalented ugliness merely because it is different, must be rejected.
It may be that those whose taste has been formed around the modern expressions by contemporary artists will have some difficulty in adapting it to the completely different masterpieces of Byzantine art, and in appreciating them. Those who are confronted by them for the first time may need a sufficient period of adjustment to the highly ornamental character of Byzantine painting.
When we stand before one of the luminous dawns so frequently painted by the Frenchman Corot we feel peace--giving healing radiations.
Despite the fine work put forth by our European masters, Western art has yet to reach the level of vitality in colouring attained by old China.
In a painting of the Chinese master Chou Tun-Yi, the great philosopher is shown holding a sceptre. This is called "The Sceptre of Power." It stands for the masculine elements within the person. The sceptre being held within his hands shows that the masculine energy is held within his control, that he is indeed a master in this sense, a ruler of himself--for the sceptre is adorned with a diamond, hardest of stones.
In this portrait of Chou Tun-Yi which looks down upon me from the study wall this great master is sitting in full robes holding the flat sceptre of authority at its lower end with his right hand and supporting its upper part with his left hand. This ceremonial sceptre is not only symbolic of high status on the worldly scene, but in his case is also symbolic of spiritual power.
Even if the simple peasant fervour of the figures appearing in medieval pictures may not be in accord with modern mentalities, yet the authentic inspiration is there; also admiration is due for the magnificent paintwork itself, the clear luminous colouring, and the skilled drawing of a Piero della Francesca or a Fra Angelico. Art was alive then, artists were creative, talent was visible, and training was fundamental. Today the contrast is saddening: pseudo-art flourishes, is well-paid, while the taste for the real thing is little.
The Chinese regard painting and calligraphy as the highest forms of their artistic expression.
Not the slow and patient building-up of a picture, as is ordinarily done, but the swift strokes, the decisive confident execution of the work in the shortest possible time and the least amount of effort: that is Zen artistry. It tries to take advantage of the inspired moments to give birth to memorable and exceptional drawing on paper or painting on silk. It is truly creative.
The icons of Greek Orthodoxy were highly stylized and tradition-bound: the artist was not free to introduce his individual variation.
What the painter puts with his brush and colour on a canvas becomes the medium of his own expression. If, in addition, he has become a vehicle for his higher self, then there will be a twofold effect, the one personal and the other inspired.
Calligraphy was placed as high among the arts by prewar Chinese as music and poetry have been placed by us. Handwriting and sign-writing were used not only to communicate but also to decorate, not only to express but also to give joy.
How inspired by the feeling for beauty are often those delicately painted scrolls on which Chinese artists put their impressions of pine trees set on mountainsides, leaping waterfalls, and quiet river banks.
The strength shown in Greek male statues, the gracefulness shown in their female ones are matched by the equipoise shown in Greek philosophy.
What the Asian adept pointed to, in a statue confronting us and which he called "the Angkor smile," could only have been chiselled by a skilled artist who was also intuitively sensitive to the profound serenity of his subject.
In a piece of Japanese lettering, the arch over a Moorish doorway, or an old Greek pediment, beauty naturally inheres. Each in its own way is symmetrical, balanced, a harmony of two opposite sides. In a sage's mind there is the same attractive equilibrium.
The solid balance and intelligent proportion which Greek philosophy admired and taught were expressed in the elegant pediments and colonnades of Greek architecture. The fervent devotion and direct simplicity of Muhammedan religion were brought into the tapered minarets and arcades of Arab architecture. From the thought and faith of a people came forth its art.
The superb balance and fine proportion of Greek architecture holds lessons for man, for his person as for his way of life.
It is one more sign of the unbalance of our times that architects overconcentrate on the straight line in their designs for the massive new buildings which appear in all major cities, and ignore its counterpoise the curve.
Too many modern buildings have the soullessness, the materialistic inner and outer nature, of mechanical constructions. They are not growths. This is why they lack beauty, grace, charm. Competent function only is their purpose. They achieve it. But they are monotonous barracks.
Buildings that are like boxes, without any identity or individuality of their own, show the decay of imagination and the mistake of letting the functionalist supplant the artist instead of working side by side with him.
The pillared arcades which transform a street, making it picturesque and giving it dignity, ought to be multiplied a hundredfold.
The dignity of Greek architecture, expressed in fine stately pillars, invites respect for the Greek mind.
The straight clean-cut lines of the exterior, the modernistic cubes and parabolic curves of their interior, are fit symbols of directness and newness; the sky-jutting spires are apt symbols of the altitude of achievement which beckons young ambition.
Musical compositions which carry their hearers up into higher worlds of being are benedictions.
The miracle of musical beauty is to be experienced gratefully, not for the sensuous and emotional satisfactions alone, but also for the reminder to make all life beautiful.
Of all the arts which minister to the enjoyment of man, music is the loftiest. It provides him with the satisfaction which brings him nearer to truth than any other art. Such is its mysterious power that it speaks a language which is universally acknowledged throughout the world and amongst every class of people; it stirs the primitive savage no less than the cultured man of the twentieth century. When we try to understand this peculiar power which resides in music, we find that it is the most transient of all the others. The sounds which delight your ears have appeared suddenly out of the absolute silence which envelops the world and they disappear almost instantaneously into that same silence. Music seems to carry with it something of the divine power which inheres in that great silence so that it is really an ambassador sent by the Supreme Reality to remind wandering mortals of their real home. The aspirant for truth will therefore love and enjoy music, but he must take care that it is the right kind of music--the kind that will elevate and exalt his heart rather than degrade and jar it.
Music can be a start along the Path the same as other arts, if it is used as a means of elevating feeling and uplifting oneself to the primal beauty of the Soul. It is itself a yoga path and can be not only a means of expression but one of lifting thought and feeling to the higher realm of illumination.
What man cannot receive directly through the intuition, he must receive in a different form through the physical senses. This is why music, for example, takes the place of a spiritual medium, as it can be heard by anyone, whereas intuition is unfelt by the insensitive.
Those who are insensible to the mystical in its ordinary form may be responsive to its musical form.
Music can express the mystical experience better than language; it can tell of its mystery, joy, sadness, and peace far better than words can utter. The fatigued intellect finds a tonic and the harassed emotions find comfort in music.
Who can respond to the genius of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion unless some awakening of spirituality--however small--is in him?
We come to concerts and operas to hear music. Loud applause interrupting what we hear introduces the shock of noise. It spoils the atmosphere.
Beethoven's music is not only melodious, which is common, but also charged with thought, which is not.
Music like any of the intellectual arts may help or hinder this Quest. When it is extremely sensual or disruptive or noisy, it is a hindrance and perhaps even a danger. When it is uplifting or inspiring or spiritually soothing, it is a help.
Warner Allen says he got, at the age of fifty, the mystic experience of timelessness, saw the Divine Light in vision, and felt one with God while listening rapt in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. (I have heard it but only the second movement is mystical.)
If an inspired sonata by Beethoven brings you momentarily to the borders of heaven, do not stop with the enjoyment. Explore the glimpse afterwards for all its rich content, its immense meaning, its glorious revelation.
(1) Bach: the final chorus from Saint Matthew Passion, (2) Beethoven's last piano trio (Archduke), (3) the slow movement from Mozart's G Major Violin Concerto, K. 216--these three are spiritually inspired musical works.
Musical geniuses like Bach and Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms, Handel, Vivaldi, Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, and Wagner touched and drew from the Overself's inspiration, although in unequal degree. They gave their hearers higher values and even, in the case of the more sensitive and prepared ones, spiritual glimpses. Beethoven himself said, "I was conscious of being inspired by God." Brahms said, "When I reach my best level during the task of composition, I feel a higher power working through me."
Music is still used, as it was for more than a thousand years past, by many Sufis to help bring on lovingly and devotedly the joyous abstracted depths of meditation.
Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 5 is a spiritually elevating composition.
The Pastorale Symphony by Beethoven is a call in music to our native spiritual homeland.
Even until a couple of decades ago the better class Indonesians would play one of their several native musical instruments after sunset as a spiritual exercise to refine, purify, and discipline their feeling.
Music receives a sacramental form when it is the expression of an inspired composer; it truly helps its hearers spiritually.
It is curious--this contrast and contradiction of Buddha banning music and Beethoven receiving divine exaltation from it. Buddha said it led astray; Beethoven said it led to God. But analysis shows that most people were too tasteless or weak or ignorant to be entrusted with such an influence and allowed to make their own discrimination between the degrading or exciting and the ennobling or calming, so it was probably safer to ban music altogether. Besides, their time as monks could be better used in reflections and meditations, studies and practices.
In the Persian Sufi book Diwan i Shams i Tabriz it is written: "We do not attend musical assemblies nor employ music. In our position there is more harm than good in it. Music improves the approach to the consciousness, if heard in the right way. But it will harm persons who are insufficiently developed. Those who do not know this have taken up music as if it were something sacred in itself. The feelings they experience from it are mistaken for sublime ones; sentiments are aroused, which is no basis for further progress."--Bahaudin Naqshband, leader of the Naqshabendi-Dervish Order
Sufi Teaching on Music:
(1) "Do not train yourself to music in case this holds you back from higher perceptions."--Ibn Hamdan (medieval)
(2) "They play music and cast themselves into states. . . . Every learning must have all its requirements fulfilled, not just music, thought, concentration."--Mainuddi Chishti, in a letter to disciples, referring to ecstatic states. The master explained further the fact that love of music was not enough, that emotional feelings produced by music were being confused with spiritual experience.
Play of the Soul and the Body--Cavalieri, born mid-sixteenth century in Rome, died 1602 in Rome, was General Director of the Tuscan Court in Florence in 1588. He belonged to the circle of "Camerata Fiorentina," which brought a great innovation in Western music: the "Nuove Musiche" (New Music), a special new manner which had a hypnotic effect on the whole audience. His Rappresentazione was performed twice in Rome in 1600. Fifteen Cardinals were present at the first performance. It was the first work written in a recitatio style. It is a religious play, related to the medieval "mystery plays," especially to the morality play Everyman. It is Buddhistic in basic theme--the human soul, blinded by worldly life and deceived by pleasures, finally has a revelation of the transitoriness and shallowness; then it rises to the higher experience, the sphere of true happiness, of angelic hosts and eternal peace.
In 1822 Rossini visited Beethoven at the latter's Viennese lodging. Two impressions remained vividly and dominantly afterwards in the visitor's mind: ". . . the indescribable untidiness of the room and the indefinable sadness of Beethoven's features." The question arises: How could the creator of such joyous music appear so unhappy himself?
What Mozart expressed in his Fortieth Symphony was what, in a different way, Buddha expressed in many of his sermons--a melancholy, a sadness, a dissatisfaction with life amounting almost to rebellious protest. Yet in neither case does one leave it with a feeling of despair, as one does in the case of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique symphony. On the contrary, there seems to be a way of escape: with Buddha plainly stated as the "Noble Eightfold Path" to Nirvana, but with Mozart appearing only as the joy which is so fundamental in most of his other works.
Brahms got creative moods in the woods. Walking did not stop them from occurring, despite the body's movements, while the solitude combined with Nature to foster his inspiration. It was only at home that he put his composition into writing.
Mozart was able to compose and complete a whole symphony in his mind before he put it down on paper.
Wagner himself tells us that he composed Parsifal as an escape from the human evils of this world and as an attempt to picture a nobler one.
There are many passages, melodies, pieces of inspired music. These include parts of such works as Saint Matthew Passion, The Magic Flute, Haydn's Duet Song, and Bach's church music.
Handel's Messiah is as inspired a piece of music as any ever written. It is a communication from heaven to earth, from the gods to man. The machine has made it available on a scale and to homes impossible in the days when Handel composed it. All aspirants who need to cultivate the religious-devotional and reverential side of their nature should hear it from time to time.
"I've never seen him act like this before," said Handel's servant to a friend. "He just stares at me and doesn't see me. He said the gates of heaven opened wide for him and God Himself was there. I'm afraid he's going mad." But the fruit of this "madness," of these long hours when Handel refused to eat and wrote and wrote, was the greatest oratorio written during, before, or after his century--the Messiah.
The sensitive heart will feel inexpressibly grateful for the soothing melodies, the peace-fraught bars of such music as Bach's fugues. Life is temporarily glorified and redeemed under this spell.
Handel sat for three days motionless. Then, out of this physical and inner stillness there came to him the tremendously inspired, triumphantly majestic strains of the Messiah.
It was an ill and suffering Handel, an ageing and impoverished man, who gave the world its greatest oratorio. How did he do it? He sat immobile, staring vacantly into space until the inspiring choruses burst upon his inner ears, and then he wrote feverishly for hours at a time. This went on for three weeks. So was born the Messiah.
The unearthly beauty of Gregorian sacred chants must bring joy to sensitive ears, whether those ears are Catholic or Protestant, Hindu or Muhammedan, if prejudice does not intrude itself and block or distort the hearing.
Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin offers not only beautiful sounds to the ear but also celestial peace to the heart.
The ancient Greeks gave more importance to singing than to instrumental music, for the reason that it was associated with words, and hence ideas.
I shall never forget the wonderful message which Ramana Maharshi sent me by the lips of an Indian friend (he never wrote letters). It was some years before his death and my friend was visiting the ashram preparatory to a visit to the West, whither he was being sent on a mission by his government. I had long been estranged from the ashram management, and there seemed no likelihood of my ever seeing the saint again. The visitor mentioned to the Maharishee that he intended to meet me: was there any communication of which he could be the bearer? "Yes," said the Maharishee, "When heart speaks to heart, what is there to say?" Now I don't know if he was aware of Beethoven's existence in the distant world of Western music, but I am certain he could not have known that the dedication to the Missa Solemnis was "May heart speak to heart." This is a work whose infrequent performance stirs me to depths when I hear it, so reverential, so supernal is it. Few know that Beethoven himself regarded the Missa as his greatest composition. It must surely be his most spiritual composition, a perfect expression of the link between man and God.
It is said that Handel declared that he wished to make people better, not just to entertain them.
The witch-doctor who beats out a rhythm on his drum--or who has an assistant do the same--accomplishes a concentration of mind, a lulling of the senses, and a recession from the world for his hearers to a greater extent than they would have been able to accomplish for themselves.
Schubert was deeply affected by the beauty and tranquillity of eventide. His song "In Abendrot" expresses this mood, and how his complaints at life, his confusions in human relations fade away when viewing the sky's red glory.
In the choired singing of a Russian church, in the Sanskrit chanting of a Hindu ashram, the Soul of bhakti finds a magnificent outlet.
Art is not only here to embellish human existence. It is also here to express divine existence. In good concert music, especially, a man may find the most exalted refuge from the drab realism of his prosaic everyday life. For such music alone can express the ethereal feelings, the divine stirrings and echoes which have been suppressed by mundane extroversion. The third movement of Beethoven's Quartet in A Minor, for instance, possesses genuine mystical fervour. One may derive for a few minutes from hearing its long slow strains a grave reverence, a timeless patience, a deep humility, an utter resignation and withdrawnness from the turmoil of the everyday world.
In Oratorio, music rises to its most spiritual height. It not only gives the joyous feeling that other musical forms can give but also a spiritual message.
Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto is grandly beautiful, spiritually ecstatic, happy, elevating, other-worldly.
Refresh yourself at the end of a day's hard work with food and drink and then settle down to listen to a recording of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. It will enrich and refine your feelings until, at the end, your mind will be well prepared and elevated to enter the state of meditation and attune itself to the infinite silence deep in the heart's core. Thus, the beauty of music can lead you to the beauty of the Overself.
In the greatest works of composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Vivaldi, we hear music which brings us as close to inspired moods as music can bring human beings.
A music which enchants the senses, refines the emotions, and temporarily dissolves some limitations of human existence must be an inspired one.
It is hard to translate these moments of uplift into music but, aside from and quite different from Beethoven's, Bach's, and Handel's most religious compositions, the music got by the Chinese from pigeons by tying tiny pipes to their pinion-feathers and then letting a flock of these birds take flight is most spiritually suggestive.
A man may enjoy listening to Beethoven; to that extent he appreciates music and derives pleasure from the physical sounds; but if this is as far as he goes he has not sounded art's depth.
Music fulfils its highest purpose when it honours the higher power in that aspect which is beauty.
Church music and choir singing may be helpful to put a congregation into a more receptive and worshipful mood; but when they are repeated too often, become too familiar, and are no longer spontaneous, there is the danger that they then become mere theatrical performances or musical shows.
Who has not felt the strength which some of Beethoven's music imparts, far profounder than the melodious rhythms of so many other composers' works, charming though they are!
Moved by the exultation of Beethoven's music, the intense passion behind it all, he can come nearer to the higher life.
Why is it that the divinest of the arts--music--is nevertheless the most evanescent of the arts?